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How to support Windows XP now that Microsoft isn't

Paul Rubens | April 8, 2014
Official Microsoft support for Windows XP ends tomorrow. However, as many as 20 percent of business endpoints still use the popular operating system. If your company ranks among those still using XP, here's how you can protect your machines from the forthcoming onslaught of security vulnerabilities.

Millions of PCs running Windows XP face a tsunami of hacker attacks starting tomorrow, when Microsoft ceases support for the aging, still-popular, operating system

After tomorrow, there will be no more security updates, so it's likely that black hats will release a torrent of stockpiled malware to exploit vulnerabilities that Microsoft will no longer patch. "Some hackers are bound to be hanging on to exploits and waiting for support to end, says Chris Sherman, a security analyst at Forrester Research. "If you knew of a vulnerability, why wouldn't you?"

Hackers will also be able to examine Microsoft's future Windows Vista and Windows 7 security updates to gain insights into the underlying vulnerabilities they patch and apply that knowledge to exploit similar vulnerabilities that will exist in Windows XP.

The end of Windows XP is a potential problem for companies because of the sheer number of XP machines out there. Forrester estimates that 20 percent of business endpoints run XP, with as many as 23 percent in the public and healthcare sectors; retailers are also at risk. Research by Fiberlink, an IBM-owned mobile device management company, likewise found that up to 20 percent of the endpoints it surveyed run XP - and that excludes a few large financial companies that are very heavy XP users.

If Windows XP Support Is Ending, Why Are Companies Still Using It?

A good question to ask is why these systems haven't been migrated to a more modern operating system. After all, Microsoft announced the date for the end of support for Windows XP back in April 2012.

"Some organizations have underestimated migration times, some thought that the issue was not important, and it's possible that some IT departments didn't get the funding to carry out a migration," says Michael Silver, a research vice president at Gartner. He adds that some organizations didn't take the end of support date seriously or are content to upgrade to a newer version of Windows as they go through their hardware refresh cycles.

In addition, plenty of organizations use legacy applications that can be run only on XP because they are incompatible with later versions of Windows. Others are unwilling to upgrade because drivers are unavailable for expensive pieces of equipment that they use, such as medical devices.

Automation Can Expedite Windows XP Migration

Migration is certainly time-consuming, but the actual time required depends on the amount of resources that a company has available. "You could migrate 20,000 machines over a weekend - if you have 20,000 technicians," Silver points out. The key to quick migration without using huge amounts of human resources is automation.

French academic institution EHESP is one organization that carried out such a migration is, switching 600 PCs running Windows XP to Windows 7 in one month using just three IT staff plus a consultant. It did so by partially automating the procedure using Dell's Migration Fast Forward Service, a master image from a pre-configured PC environment and a Dell KACE deployment appliance.


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